In the last few weeks, life has changed dramatically for a lot of people in the world. It feels like we’re suddenly living in a dystopia!
As nervous as we may be about COVID-19 and as bored as we may be from being quarantined, many of us are still working full-time jobs from home — and SO MANY people are working from home like this for the very first time.
I had my own adjustment period 3 years ago when I went from a 10-year-long corporate career to working from home for the first time ever. In my previous jobs, working from home was never really an option. The closest I got was when I would travel for work and work on my company laptop while traveling to conferences or meetings.
Maybe you’re a new freelancer, or your work has given you a WFH setup for the quarantine, or maybe you are using this isolation to work on personal projects.
I recognize that being able to continue working and the flexibility to work from home is a privilege. This is to help those who are doing it find more comfort and routine and be more productive during this uncertain time.
No matter how you got here, working from home full-time can be a bigger adjustment than many realize.
At first, it may feel easy, breezy, and new.
“I work in my undies now!” or “No one steals my lunch or asks for my snacks here!” or “I have so much time to film TikToks!”
But it’s also your house. You have all your favorite snacks and it’s set up just the way you like and your pets/plants/kids are all home and also want your attention.
Your game console is right there and your newest game is waiting for you. Your TV is beckoning you. Your brain wants to watch YouTube all day because there is no boss who could suddenly pop up behind you.
It is incredibly easy to let yourself be distracted and not get much done.
On the flip side, it’s also now much easier to stay connected to work, work more hours, and have trouble separating yourself from work and your colleagues.
You need both — work time and non-work time. It’s all about finding that balance.
So, for those of your working from home longer-term for the first time, this is for you.
How to Work From Home & Stay Productive & Sane
1. The #1 best thing you can do when you first start working from home is to set up a designated “work space.”
This means having a desk or nook or table that is specifically your work area. You don’t need a whole office to yourself but you shouldn’t be working on the couch or sitting on your bed.
Sitting and trying to work from your relaxing and recreational areas keeps you distracted and having a separate work area helps your brain separate “work time” from “chill time.”
Have a space that is just for work and keep your laptop there, all your papers, and everything you need to do your job.
2. Next, set up specific work HOURS.
If your work doesn’t require you to be online during certain times, it is easy to just do a little here and there.
Instead of just working whenever you feel like it and making up time on the weekends, designate specific work hours, such as 9:30a–5:30p (with an hour for lunch).
It might seem silly since working from home gives you a lot of flexibility, but the reality is that a schedule helps our brain stay focused.
Another major benefit is being able to be truly “off” when your workday is over.
It is ALL TOO EASY to just keep working into the late evening and answer client/co-worker emails at 10 pm when working from home. You are connected with everyone and it can feel like you need to STAY connected and available all the time to be a good worker.
This is not true. You know having a work-life balance is important. And it is even more important during a time of crisis or anxiety. Maintain your mental health by creating clear work boundaries.
It’s ok to wait until morning to answer that email or text.
3. Develop a routine.
Pretend you’re still going into the office. Set an alarm so you’re waking up at a reasonable hour and jumping into your previously-designated work hours.
Some experts say that you should shower and get fully dressed, too, because it helps your brain get into work mode.
I did that at first, but to be honest I work mostly in pajamas these days. But the initial weeks of getting dressed and establishing a routine helped me get in the right mind frame for working from home.
4. Plan your day out/have a to-do list.
Don’t go in blind. In the morning each day or on Mondays, review what you need to do for the week and create a physical to-do list of tasks and projects you need to work on or complete. Include your important meetings.
It is so satisfying to mark something off your list, but it is even more important to have the list in the first place. Planning out your day/week and knowing what needs to get done is important for actually getting things done.
It also helps you stay focused and be way more productive than waltzing in with no plan.
5. Minimize distractions.
Hey, everyone checks Facebook or Twitter first thing in the morning or reads the news or watches their favorite daily YouTuber. That’s normal.
What is imperative is setting limits. You can make it a time limit, such as “I have 30 minutes to drink my coffee and peruse social media,” or “I can watch 2 YouTube videos but then it’s right to work.”
Once the time is up, close that browser tab. Silence your social media notifications.
Do everything you can to minimize potential distractions. You will get work done faster, be more productive, and are more likely to be able to separate your work time from your play/relaxing time if you try to limit distractions during work and only go on TikTok when you aren’t working.
6. Take breaks!
Working from home isn’t a prison sentence — despite the current quarantine!
One of the advantages of working from home is being able to grab a snack from your own fridge or stop and pet your cat for a few minutes.
You take breaks when you’re in the office and you should do the same at home. Don’t go nuts and take a break every 15 minutes, but make sure you’re getting up and stretching and moving around every hour or so.
7. Manage yourself.
This is one that many new work-from-homers don’t think about. Sure, you probably have a boss who is checking in with you now and then, but working from home requires that you manage yourself and your time in a different way than when you’re in the office.
This means you need to find ways to manage your time effectively (such as timeboxing or the Pomodoro technique), stay productive, meet deadlines, and schedule yourself in a way that results in you doing the things you need to do.
How to Get Sh*t Done When You Just Don’t Feel Like Writing (or Working)
We’ve all been there
Offices often kind of schedule your day for you, with meetings at certain times, managers asking you for updates and giving you deadlines, and co-workers having set routines.
But working from home means needing to learn to manage your own time and potential distractions and deadlines. Sure, your boss still exists, but it is on you to stay productive at home when no one is watching.
8. Stop working at the end of your work hours.
As I mentioned in #2, having specific hours you plan to work helps separate “work time” from “non-work time.” Part of that separation is actually stopping work.
Whether that is changing to more comfortable clothes, moving to the living room, silencing your work email notifications, or any other separation, it is important to remember to end your workday and just stop working.
One of the hardest things about working from home is feeling constantly connected with a digital leash.
It is much easier to stop working when you leave work and physically go home. Now that you’re working from home, it will be harder to “turn off” work.
Just remember: You are doing the work you’re being paid to do. You don’t owe them your evenings and weekends (or whatever your non-work hours are).
The email can wait. The text can wait.
Unless it is actually urgent, the questions and notifications can wait.
That’s it. Those are my top 8 suggestions for adjusting to the new normal of working from home.
I hope this is useful for you and gives you some insight into how to work from home but still stay productive and sane and give you plenty of non-work time, too.
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